As Florida moves past the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak and we look optimistically toward reopening our state economy, small businesses like mine deserve to have a seat at the table in the state’s recovery.
Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the executive team for the Re-Open Florida Task Force — to my dismay, none of those announced represented small businesses. While subsequently named workgroups do include a limited number of small-business owners, we have no representation on the executive committee and must rely on our working group chairs to adequately convey our concerns to the Governor and the rest of the executive committee.
As the owner of a combination winery, brewery and restaurant in South Florida that employs over 40 workers, I believe this is a mistake; small businesses will absolutely need to play a large role in the recovery and reopening of our state. There are over 2.5 million small businesses in Florida, employing about 42% of the state’s private workforce. Any real discussion of making sure our state is on a path to prosperity should begin with us, not just with the largest corporations and businesses.
Over the course of 20 years, what started as just a personal dream on 30 acres of land in the Redlands has become a destination winery and brewery, bringing happiness and joy to the hundreds of thousands of visitors we see each year in our South Dade community. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, like almost all businesses in our industry, the doors to our restaurant and winery are closed, weddings and events have been postponed or canceled, and almost our entire staff are furloughed.
My experience is not unique, but shared by many across Florida. In the end, financial assistance and loans for small businesses are not about the owners’ livelihoods; they are about the employees and the economy that are supported and threatened by this unforeseen crisis.
While Gov. DeSantis has repeatedly stated that he wants small business to lead our recovery, his actions have not followed suit. In addition to limited representation on his task force, our state’s Small Business Bridge Loan Program has dried up; reports have indicated that of the 37,000 small businesses that applied for bridge loans, only 1,000 received them. The Governor has yet to take any action to replenish this program.
Time will tell if the state is ultimately responsive to the needs of small businesses. I urge Gov. DeSantis to immediately expand the state small business bridge loan program and to do so in a way that prioritizes genuine small businesses. These are business loans, which will be paid back, and any expansion will mean that more businesses can get back to work and help our economy recover.
In the meantime, we are adapting to the situation — both by selling our products wholesale and conducting virtual wine-tastings and waiting anxiously for this terrible pandemic to pass us by and to go back to business as usual.
However, what business as usual will look like when we emerge on the other side of this crisis will depend on the response of our local and state leaders, and what efforts they take to ensure that small businesses are supported.
I was happy to receive an invitation from my local county Mayor Carlos Giménez, to be a voice at the table in our local recovery effort; he recognizes the role that small businesses like mine have in addressing this crisis and helping our community recover and reopen. I hope that the Governor recognizes our importance too.
Peter Schnebly is the founder and owner of Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery.